Dear sisters and brothers,
By long tradition, those wise travellers from the East, who follow the star announcing the birth of the Christ, are depicted as of different ethnic origin. Each carries a part of the truth about Jesus, expressed through their symbolic gifts. Only when those gifts are gathered together and presented do they begin to approach the immensity of the child they find in Bethlehem. I picture them having met somewhere along their westward way, discovering that they have a common destination, and pooling their respective and distinctive wisdom.
It’s an image we need to return to in times as divided as ours. The last couple of years have been extraordinary, even by recent standards. On the very day of Epiphany 2021, the defeated US presidential candidate attempted to launch a coup against his opponent’s victory. And 2022 continued in similar vein. Both the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the political shambles here in the UK are, like the American attempt to overthrow democracy, at least in part inspired by a pervading culture of entitlement. Magnified in the echo chambers of social media, the perpetrators believe that anything challenging the supremacy of their viewpoint is thereby illegitimate.
The wisdom of those ancient travellers will have been forged not through having the loudest voice or the most effective corporate communications strategy, but by years of careful observation of both the heavens and life on Earth, supplemented by deep listening to the insights of others, including their fellow pilgrims. They are the same skills clergy and others learn and deploy in the common round of pastoral conversations, in parishes, chaplaincies, schools and the public square. They are the same skills we hone and practise in our spiritual lives, looking and listening for the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and expecting to find such signs in unlikely people and places.
This wisdom is, I believe, the Epiphany gift that the Church is called to bring and offer to the society around us in this coming year. We can model a better way of handling differences, one that is not afraid to hold a view, but which recognises the provisionality of all our human wisdom. A way that claims no automatic entitlement over the deeply held perspectives of others.
To be authentic, such practices need not only to be how we relate in private pastoral ministry and to the wider community around us; they need also to underpin our life together as a Church. They will have much to contribute to our building up of our mission communities, especially where we are engaging alongside our sisters and brothers of different theological traditions within our gloriously broad and diverse Anglican family. They will also have a vital part to play in the next stage of the Living in Love and Faith process, which is scheduled to reach the General Synod next month.
And in all of this, the direction of our compass will point, as it did for those ancient travellers, to the Jesus who is Lord of all, the one by whose name we are called and for whose sake we both work and worship.
May he bless us this Epiphanytide.
Yours in Christ,
+ David Manchester Feast of the Epiphany 2023